It is almost a half of a century ago that the man I am about to introduce to you took up the special work of herding the sheep. Living out his calling, he gave himself heart and soul to his father’s service, and through all these years tending the sheep and bringing to perfection their ancient cheese recipes have been his care and his joy.
“I became a sheep herder in 1975, at six years old. During this period, I learned to play the longhorn. I learned from my father, in the Ciumarna mountains. Herding will remain history. We have no one to work with anymore. Our grandsons will only watch it in movies.”, said Mr. Petru Lazarean with a sudden glimpse of sadness.
He lived each day filled with purpose and the happiness that comes from doing exactly what he was meant to do: continuing the age-old tradition of shepherding that was passed down from father to son.
Dressed in a smart national chemise, he emanates a deep sense of respect towards his ancestral traditions through all his deeds and sayings.
“I am doing this for the love of our millennial tradition. Our grandfather, Vasile Lazarean, lived a hundred years. He raised sheep, he ate meat and he lived to 100. He lived in these mountains”, said Mr. Lazarean in a tall voice.
His passion and love for what he does draws people to his shelter: his sheepfold is daily visited by villagers coming in for their share of cheese, tourists retreating from the everyday modern life, and friends dropping in for a chat, or playing the longhorn.
Here he can be seen having fun while performing the longhorn herding call with his friends, Gales Simion and Vasile Lazarean.
It was a cozy warm atmosphere of friends partying, while inside the hut, chief shepherd Aurel Musuleac set off to make cheese from freshly-milked fat milk brought downhill by the shepherds in charge with herding and milking the grass-fed sheep.
Here everything goes according to a natural order of things: “The shepherds take care of the sheep. They feed and milk the sheep. The chief shepherd’s job is to milk the sheep and cows, wash the pots, make fine cheese recipes in the cheese hut, and set the table for guests”, said the chief shepherd.
There was so much to be done, that the chief shepherd, who was a very efficient person, could not stay away from the cottage. First, he made the kneaded cheese, by adding rennet to the warm milk, separating the curds, and then kneading and squeezing all the whey off. The cheese making process took some time, for it must be given some time for the enzymes to coagulate the milk, then the curds must be broken into tiny pieces and handled slowly, while being gathered together to form the cheese. To remove any excess whey, the cheese is squeezed and kneaded very well.
“I let milk curdle 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, I break the curds, and leave it 10 more minutes, then I beat and gather the curds. Gathering takes about 30 mins to complete. The curds clump together little by little, while being pressed. With a cheesecloth, we put it in another bucket and squeeze it some more. We let it rest 20 mins, then we hung it in a cheesecloth to drain”, says the chief shepherd.
After the kneaded cheese was ready, he went about the task of making whey cheese from the leftover whey. At this point, the hut looked like something out of a fairy tale, the sun rays spilling through the cracks in the blackened wooden walls, breaking through the smoke that rose from an open fire on the stoned floor, over which a large cauldron filled with whey was boiling.
Tempting yellow whole cheeses rested on the cheese stand, and other large pieces of cheese hung for dehydration just beneath the stand.
A pleasant smell of heated milk filled the whole space and invited you in. After boiling for a while, some cheese lumps got separated from whey and floated on the surface.
Mr. Lazarean took a colander and began gathering them into a cheesecloth. He also put aside a couple of bowls of cheese and whey for us to eat, then kept on gathering all the whey cheese in a cheesecloth, then he tied it into a cheese bag and hung it to drain next to the other leaky cheeses. On the table, thin wisps of steam curled up from the bowls of cheese and whey, that smelled very enticing. We were seated at the big wooden table and served our cheese and whey. The chief shepherd served us with slices from the yellow cheese displayed and all I can tell is that the taste was so different than any cheese one can possibly find in a supermarket.
It had a strong taste of creamy raw milk, that is largely due to the sheep’s pasture-based feeding system, something you need to eat at least once in life.
Not to mention the place that was so original it completely immersed myself into the past.
The hut was furnished only with old wooden tools that had been in use for decades and handed down from generation to generation, from ladles and scraper spoons, to barrels and buckets. The whole experience rather felt like watching cheese being made in a museum, while being surrounded by passionate and original people.
“This ladle has an old age, for generations it has been used for this job”, said Mr. Lazarean about a ladle he uses to serve his guests with.
I strongly believe that Mr. Petru Lazarean makes valuable contributions to the world’s heritage, thanks to his traditional knowledge and unspoilt preservation of cultural heritage. Now more visitors arrived and the party talked very much and the babble kept up. Just to sit and watch them pass their time was so pleasant! At the stile, the bull bellowed for its share of the leftover whey, almost like it knew it was about time to receive it.
If you plan to visit Bucovina, this is an original attraction that you simply can’t miss. Contact Mr. Petru Lazarean’s on phone number 004 0747 755 351 (Romanian language speaker), or Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/petru.poriuclazarean
This is their location:
March 16, 2023 at 9:07 am
Excellent video! Thank you for showing the process, very interesting to see cheese made. They work together to make an outstanding final product.
March 17, 2023 at 2:28 pm